Phnom Penh’s iconic White Building was Cambodia’s first public housing project for the lower middle class, with a total of 468 apartments originally. It was built in 1963 by Khmer architect Lu Ban Hap, with Russian engineer Vladimir Bodiansky, and is considered as one of the symbols of New Khmer Architecture movement, overseen by famed architect and urban planner Vann Molyvann, under King Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime (“People’s Social Community”) during the 1960s.
The White Building was abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979), as was the whole city of Phnom Penh. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, people moved back to Phnom Penh and families started resettling in the building, but due to lack of maintenance, the building is now in poor condition, with a crumbling facade, dilapidated infrastructure and the strong presence of drugs and prostitution. The White Building is, however, now home to a vibrant community of more than 2500 residents, including artists, community educators, as well as civil servants and street vendors.
In September 2014, Phnom Penh City Hall called for the demolition of the White Building.
There has been a lot of writing and stories around the White Building (popularly called “Boding” by locals) these last few years: about its exceptional history, its architecture, its current living conditions, and the need its restoration or—more recently—the plan to destroy it.
But I think that, sometimes, the omnipresence of the context of something, or its too powerful background story – in other words the construction of an “official image” – tends to prevent us from really seeing that thing, or from feeling its sensitive reality.
Walking through the numerous, typically long and dark corridors of the White Building recently, I suddenly felt an unfamiliar sentiment of losing the consciousness of time, as if the space was offering me a unique journey in the vertigo of time.
It is this very specific and personal connection I felt within the space and time, losing myself into those corridors, which I have tried to explore in this video, “Boding”.
The corridor is the one place that connects all the houses of the people, their lives and their activities. But even if we use corridors everyday through our life, we don’t really pay attention to them, we only see their utility, of bringing us from point A to point B. But how many times a single resident has spent walking through those corridors, days and nights? And how many people, families and generations a single corridor of the White Building has been crossed by, since its construction in the early 60s?
Meanwhile, I feel that time is this ephemeral thing impossible to catch, which vanishes immediately. How to be close and specific enough to see a piece of time?
By focusing on the corridors, by observing their differences, in terms of light and perspective, sounds and atmosphere, by welcoming the little actions that occur there as some major events, “Boding” is an invitation for the viewers to develop their own interactions with the space, and to eventually feel something strangely different, to see the interior of the building with new eyes and virgin senses, as if the space itself was progressively becoming an alien territory.
— Tith Kanitha, December 2014